Formula 1 with HRT and Toro Rosso
Further F1 tests with Red Bull and Toro Rosso followed during that winter and the Australian was nominated as the latter’s reserve driver for the 2011 F1 season. He drove for ISR Racing’s F.Renault 3.5 team – when his Friday F1 testing duties allowed – with another win on the streets of Monte Carlo the highlight. However, Red Bull wanted to evaluate Ricciardo’s F1 race potential so he was eased into the back-of-the-grid HRT team from the British GP. He accepted the inevitably uncompetitive opportunity with good grace and Ricciardo did enough to warrant a Toro Rosso race seat for the following season.
That 2012 campaign began with Ricciardo surviving a chaotic last lap (that included passing team-mate Jean-Eric Vergne) to snatch ninth in his home race. However, a botched start lost the benefits of his impressive sixth on the grid in Bahrain. The team was bolstered by the arrival of technical director James Key and Ricciardo scored another three ninth place finishes to claim 18th in the final standings.
Ricciardo and Vergne remained with Toro Rosso for a second season in 2013 and that proved to be a final audition for promotion to Red Bull. These former British F3 champions had initially been evenly matched but Ricciardo’s qualifying pace now gave him the edge. Seventh in China and Italy were his best results to date as he beat Vergne into 14th in the championship. That proved crucial when Red Bull’s Mark Webber announced he was retiring from F1 at the end of the season.
Ricciardo delivers on his promotion to Red Bull Racing
Ricciardo replaced his compatriot for the 2014 World Championship although the Red Bull RB10-Renault was out-powered by its Mercedes rivals. However, he shone nonetheless as team-mate and reigning champion Sebastian Vettel struggled to adapt to the new turbocharged formula. And on the days when the fates conspired, it was Ricciardo who benefited thanks to his exemplary tyre management. He passed Nico Rosberg’s brakeless Merc with two laps to go in Montréal to score a popular breakthrough victory. That was followed by back-to-back victories in Hungary (coming from third to first in final laps) and Belgium so Ricciardo finished in a solid third place in the final standings.
Any hope of building on that success was hindered as the relationship between Red Bull and Renault visibly deteriorated during 2015. It was only on F1’s tighter circuits, where engine power was less of a premium, when the team fought for podium finishes. Ricciardo was third in Hungary and second in Singapore, having qualified on the front row for the latter. Eighth in the championship represented a backwards step, especially as team-mate Daniil Kvyat narrowly beat him in the points.